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Amazing Places: The Ruins of Ancient Myra at Demre, Turkey

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Updated: May 6, 2019

Hundreds of years of history are being painstakingly restored at the site of ancient Myra in modern-day Demre.

Copied from a sign posted at the ruins

The ruins of the ancient city of Myra are 1.5 KM north of Demre, a distinguished country town, important with its greenhouses and as a marketing centre for fruits and vegetables.

In addition, it is of interest to visitors because of its proximity to the site of ancient Myra.

Although the earliest references date from the 1st century BC, evidence from Lykian inscriptions and monuments suggest that there was a settlement here in Myra as early as the 5th century BC. Antiquities of Myra fall naturally into three distinct zones. The first is on the southwest of the site; it includes the theatre, the so-called sea necropolis and the area occupied by the agora. The second is on the north and it covers the acropolis, the buildings on it and the surrounding walls. Finally, the third one is on the southeast; it encompasses the the river necropolis and the channel which supplied Myra with water.

In antiquity, the cities of Lycia used to give themselves pompous names. Accordingly, the city of Myra was named "The Most Brilliant". Actual facts about why this name was given to Myra are given in the following:

  • According to Artemidoros (2nd century AD) was included among the six important cities of the federation of Lycia (Xhantos, Patara, Olympos, Pinara, Tlos, Myra). This particular federation consisted of seventy cities in total (Plinus, 1st century AD)
  • Myra's numerous tomb monuments are extremely impressive. These monuments, on the south of the city, carved out of the soft rock are preserved so far very well. The so-called sea necropolis is on the cliff face behind and to the northwest and the northeast of the theatre. It contains a remarkable collection believed to copy the dwellings of the early inhabitants of the area. Some have stylized representations of the wooden beams used as roof supports in Lycian houses. A few have reliefs that still bear traces of colour. Inscriptions, where they exist, are usually in Lycian.
  • Myra used its own coins besides the coins of the federations which were made from its own mints. Coins issued by Myra show that the city's main deity was Artemis Eleutheria, from a Cybelle the ancient Mother Goddess of Anatolia.
  • The theatre of Myra in its well preserved condition is brilliant and of large seating capacity (35 consecutive rows of seats). The theatre destroyed by earthquake that devastated the city in AD 141 was restored shortly afterwards through the generosity of Opramos of Rhodiapolis. Some time later it was modified so that it could be used as an arena for gladiatorial games. There are six rows of seats above and 29 below the single diazoma. A substantial part of the stage buildings still remains. The facade facing the cavea was richly ornamented with theatrical masks and representations of mythological scenes and personages.
  • Myra's seaport Andriace was one of the three most important commercial ports of Lycia. The other two were the ports of Patara and Phaselis. The most important existing monument in Andriace is the granary of Hadrian. From the inscriptions it's understood that ship voyages with different timetables were held from here to other Lycian ports.
  • Myra's defence system, having the acropolis as its centre extended as far as Limyra on the east and Sura on the west. The outer walls of the fortification were constructed during the Byzantine period. The inner Lycian walls are of polygonal masonry and date from the 5th century BC.
  • The monument which Myra was mostly proud of was the temple of Free, to which ancient historians refer together with with Artemis of Ephesos and Artemis of Perge. In this regard, Myra was superior to other cities of Lycia.
  • Myra is one of the ancient coastal cities of the Gulf of Antalya visited by Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus (Acts 27:5/6). It is where prisoners changed boats on their way to Rome in 60 or 61 AD.
  • Another point of Myra's superiority at the Byzantine times was the privilege of having Nicholas as its Bishop (4th century AD), one of Christianity's saints. This fact was also the reason for Myra to have its magnificent church, the Basilica of Saint Nicholas preserved until today.

The Ruins of Ancient Myra in Pictures

Great Sources of Additional Information about Myra

Have you had the chance to visit the ruins of ancient Myra? We'd love to hear about your experience and see your photos.